Sitting in the audience at a mother and baby comedy event, her daughter cradled in her lap, Kimberley Godsall felt annoyed when the comic opened with the joke: ‘Well, this is one place you can be sure every woman in the room has had sex.’
Her irritation was not down to prudishness, but because he was wrong. For despite having given birth to her daughter Scarlett, 38-year-old Kimberley is also a proud virgin.
‘Even in a room full of mums with new babies, as we were that day, you can no longer assume that all of them have had sex,’ she says. ‘There are exceptions to every rule and so I sat in the audience, rather smugly, enjoying the fact it was me, on this occasion.’
Now two years old, Scarlett is an exuberant, loving little girl — and her mother’s mini-me, with her russet-coloured hair and huge blue eyes.
Kimberley Godsall, 38, pictured with her daughter Scarlett, is a ‘proud virgin’ thanks to modern science, who is one of at least five heterosexual UK women per year having babies without intercourse
Kimberley, an exam tutor from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, says: ‘I’ve already heard all the jokes from friends, about my “immaculate conception” or how Scarlett and I should be the stars of the Nativity play, and I’m not offended by any of it; I see the funny side.
‘Obviously, I realise I’m unusual, which is why I explained at my first appointment with the midwife that I had never had sex and asked if it was going to impact the birth. I was kind of reassured when she said: “No, it hurts anyway”.
‘That’s what I’d thought. Obviously, the size of a baby’s head doesn’t compare to any man’s appendage, whatever he may think.’
One thing the midwife did jot down in Kimberley’s notes is that internal examinations are more uncomfortable for her than many women — likely the result of never having had a sexual relationship — ‘that way the medics will be careful when they do them’, she explained.
It comes as something of a surprise to find that Kimberley is not religious. She’s also had a couple of relationships with men and gone on numerous dates with others she met online before her ‘virgin birth’ aged 35.
She had simply been ‘saving herself’ for marriage, or at least for the man she knew she would marry, because she considers herself ‘traditional’ and assumed her life would pan out like her mother’s and sister’s.
Both married their one love aged 25, and settled down in middle-class, suburban bliss with two children each.
‘I realise it’s a romantic view of life. But from a young age I knew that while I wanted children, I only ever want to have sex with the person that I’m going to marry,’ says Kimberley, an English Literature graduate, who studied through the Open University. ‘So I felt I’d failed when I wasn’t married by my mid-20s.
‘I don’t judge other people for having lots of sexual partners — they can do what they like with their bodies. And I wouldn’t expect my partner to be a virgin, that doesn’t bother me either, this is just what I’ve always wanted for myself.’
Kimberley’s longest relationships were at the age of 22, with an actor, and another, at 32, with a teacher, though both only lasted for about three months.
She broke up with each man after realising she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life with either — and fearing the longer they dated, the more likely they were to pressure her to go further than a kiss and a cuddle.
‘I remember being horrified when I had to share a room with my first boyfriend, after a New Year’s Eve party at my sister’s. I insisted we had the room with twin beds, then lay awake all night worried he might make a move,’ Kimberley recalls.
‘The second asked if he could come into my flat after things got a bit steamy in the car when he was dropping me off one night, and I made some excuse and dashed for the door.
‘I never spelled out the fact I was a virgin, and saving myself to either of them, probably because I knew it was unusual and was a bit embarrassed. I just avoided being alone with them, or getting too intimate when we were.’
Kimberley also went on numerous dates, but says she gave up after it dawned on her that most men were after sex, rather than a chaste two-year relationship, leading to marriage.
During her second relationship, concerned that her life was not working out as she had planned, Kimberley saw a counsellor who she credits with giving her the clarity to see that she didn’t need to find the love of her life to have a child.
‘For as long as I can remember I’ve longed to be a mum and with every year that passed I felt my biological clock ticking louder,’ says Kimberley. ‘I couldn’t bear the thought of living my whole life without ever fulfilling that dream of having a child.
‘When my counsellor told me: “You’re waiting for a middle bit to fall into place to get what you really want, which is a child”, I had this epiphany: “I don’t have to have a man, or sex, I can do this without either.” So I did.’
However, concerned that being a virgin might somehow be a stumbling block, one of the first things Kimberley told her consultant, at the Care Fertility Clinic in Tunbridge Wells, was that she had never had sex.
She had also only ever had one smear test, which was very painful, as they’re only recommended for women who have been sexually active.
‘It was such a relief when he said it was no bar to becoming a mum, other than making his job a bit harder as I was likely to tense up during internal procedures,’ says Kimberley.
Exam tutor Kimberley had simply been ‘saving herself’ for marriage, or at least for the man she knew she would marry, because she considers herself ‘traditional’ and assumed her life would pan out like her mother’s and sister’s (pictured with daughter Scarlett)
‘He told me that women having babies without ever having sex was much more common than anyone would imagine. There are some couples who don’t have a sexual relationship, usually due to trauma of some kind, but still want children.
‘He’d treated more than one couple in that situation.’
Care Fertility is one of at least four firms in England that have helped heterosexual virgins to conceive in recent years.
As NHS rules state that, to qualify for funded treatment, women must have had regular unprotected sex for two years, all have had to pay privately.
And so, in late 2017, aged 33, Kimberley took her first step to becoming a mum by selecting a sperm donor online, via the European Sperm Bank in Denmark. It supplied more information about donors than other providers, which she thought was important for any future offspring.
She selected a Caucasian American who was intelligent and creative with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes — on the basis that he had a similar look to her, increasing the chances that any child would, too. And Kimberley paid £1,700 for two vials of sperm, enough for two rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination) in which a woman is artificially inseminated, in a clinic, during her natural ovulation phase.
Her consultant happened to be the father of a boy Kimberley had tutored in the run-up to his 11+ exams. Embarrassed by the connection, she was relieved the lessons were in the past so she wouldn’t encounter him again.
‘I opted to be conscious, rather than anaesthetised, for what I hoped would be the conception of my child — but that was a big mistake as it turned out to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my life,’ says Kimberley.
‘They used a speculum to open the vagina which was so painful for me, before inserting a catheter to deposit sperm into the uterus to meet the waiting egg. It was such an agonising process that I was crying, as a lovely nurse dried my eyes, and I squeezed my sister’s hand. She’s my only sibling and is so supportive but, after that, she insisted I be sedated for any future treatments.
‘They told me afterwards that my extreme reaction was down to being a virgin. Psychologically as much as physically, I was unaccustomed to any activity down there.’
Both the first and a second round of IUI, done under sedation, were unsuccessful. So doctors recommended Kimberley try IVF, where eggs are extracted, inseminated in the clinic then any viable embryos are inserted into the womb.
As all the donor sperm had been used during IUI, Kimberley bought another £850 vial from the same donor.
Of course, it is thanks to modern science — rather than divine intervention — that Kimberley is one of at least five heterosexual women each year in the UK who reportedly have a baby by IVF without ever having had intercourse (file photo)
Although two embryos thrived, the clinic, in line with fertility regulator HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) guidelines, recommended only using one to reduce the risk of a multiple birth.
Kimberley, who spent a total of £16,000 on fertility treatment, was conscious that coping with more than one baby as a lone parent would be very challenging. So she agreed and the procedure was carried out under sedation.
Unlike the stressful two-week wait following the previous attempts, this time she had a good feeling about the outcome. And two days before her period was due, Kimberley gave in to the temptation to take a pregnancy test. ‘I told my mum and sister I was going to do a test but wanted to be on my own when I did it,’ she says. ‘I squealed with delight when it came up positive and told my cats the good news first — they were completely uninterested, but they were there.
‘I called my mum first and she said: “Oh my goodness. I’m so happy for you”. Then I rang my sister, who was thrilled for me, and told her not to make any plans for February because I wanted her to be my birthing partner.
‘I might not have got the man or the big white wedding I’d dreamed of, but I was so happy I wasn’t going to miss out on having a baby.
‘Of course, it hadn’t quite been the romantic conception I’d envisaged: a man I hardly knew with his head between my legs, inserting an embryo, inseminated by a stranger’s sperm, while I was under sedation,’ adds Kimberley, laughing. ‘But it worked and, nine months later, my wonderful daughter arrived.’
Scarlett was born at Tunbridge Wells Hospital on February 25, 2019 — 66 long hours after Kimberley was induced and 16 hours after her waters were broken.
She says: ‘Despite an epidural, I had pressure pain on my pelvis with every contraction. When it came to the actual delivery, I thought we were both going to die. Scarlett became stuck, and I ended up needing surgery moments after her birth.’
But her precious baby was healthy, and weighed 8lb 8oz.
As the midwife passed Scarlett to Kimberley she said, tearfully: ‘I’m your mummy’. She felt, she recalls, an overwhelming sense that she already knew and loved the little girl in her arms.
Although single parenthood is challenging — Kimberley says it would have been lovely to have someone making dinner as she breastfed or tidying away the toys as she put Scarlett to bed — she counts her blessings every day.
‘I used to feel that I wasn’t quite normal, having never had sex, and I didn’t want to die not knowing what it was like,’ says Kimberley.
‘Part of me still does wonder what sex is like, and if I’m missing out, but not enough to have it with someone I’m not committed to. The fact I have my little girl is far more important to me than any of that.
‘I don’t tell many people I’m a virgin but those I have told are always surprised.
‘Mum always worried I would marry the wrong person because I wanted children so desperately.
‘Some of the most heartfelt support I’ve had has come from women in their 60s like my mother, because a lot of people of that generation just settled for a partner because they wanted kids and there was no other way to do it back then.
Kimberley, who spent a total of £16,000 on fertility treatment, was conscious that coping with more than one baby as a lone parent would be very challenging. So she agreed and the procedure was carried out under sedation (file photo)
‘My parents know I’m a virgin but, unsurprisingly, it’s not something my dad has ever discussed with me. They both supported my decision to have Scarlett, who they utterly adore.’
Although her second embryo is on ice at the clinic, at a cost of £700 a year for storage, Kimberley has decided not to try for a second child, believing it’s more important to concentrate her energies and resources on Scarlett. She has yet to decide what will happen to the spare embryo. Kimberley’s father is an accountant and her mother was a fashion illustrator who gave up her career to be at home full-time with her children.
But Kimberley knows that, with one income, a detached house with a garden like the one she grew up in is beyond her reach.
But she hopes to give Scarlett as many advantages in life as she can. A former dancer, she would like her daughter to continue with the ballet classes she has already started, and plans to set up a fund to support her through university.
Kimberley has been open with Scarlett about how she came into the world, and refers to her biological father, who due to clinic rules she will never be able to trace, as ‘the donor’.
‘The other day at her childminder’s, where Scarlett is the youngest of about six children, the kids started discussing their parents’ names and she said, very matter-of-factly: “I just have a mummy and a donor”,’ says Kimberley, amused by her daughter’s candour.
‘I’ve made several friends who also have donor-conceived children, so it helps to be able to tell her that they also have a mummy and a donor, instead of a daddy.’
When Scarlett is old enough, her mother will also willingly explain that she was a virgin when she conceived.
Far from encouraging Scarlett to follow a similar path, she intends to tell her to do whatever makes her happy, rather than what society dictates.
She says that an eventual happy-ever-after with a husband with whom she could share an intimate relationship would be the ‘icing on the cake’ — but the burning desire to meet Mr Right is no longer there, because she has her daughter.